Friday, January 30, 2009

A King of New Media

President Obama will not get rid of his Blackberry, he has used YouTube to speak directly to the people (fireside chats, anyone?), AND has more followers on Twitter than any other member, retailer or business out there.

Regardless of anyone's political views, we are lucky to have someone in the White House that understands how powerful these forms of communication can be, and it will be interesting to see how he will use these different mediums to reach out in the future.

Sweet Valentine's Day Initiatives

Retail marketers always look for ways to win the hearts of consumers around Valentine’s Day, and now that social media is officially in full bloom, it’s important for them not to overlook the thriving channel.

According to an article on, online retailer ThinkGeek was able to use YouTube last year to reap record-breaking sales around the holiday.

After posting a quirky video as a part of a promotion for one of its Valentine’s Day items, (an 8-Bit Dynamic Life Shirt), the clip was watched nearly 250,000 times and sales ultimately climbed. ThinkGeek plans to reach out to more social-media sites in the days leading up to Feb. 14. Here’s why:

"Social-media techniques provide online retailers new, effective avenues for promoting their products," Caroline Offutt, VP and general manager of ThinkGeek, told "And this year, we've grown our blog and Twitter feed significantly, giving us new ways to promote our Valentine's Day products in a fun, geeky sort of way."

Check out how more retailers plan to market Valentine’s Day thanks to Web 2.0 technology here.

Catch More Bees with Honey

This is an interesting read from Australian news site SmartCompany that encourages retailers to throw in a small surprise when customers make online purchases.

Whether it's a postcard from where the company's headquarters are located, free shoe polish to go along with a footwear purchase or even a branded pen, consumers love freebies and it's a sure way to lock in loyal customers and entice new ones. Click here.

Reading into the Future

I’ve been intrigued by the Amazon Kindle ever since it debuted on in Nov. 2007. The e-book reader, with more than 225,000 books, magazines, newspapers and even blogs readily available for purchase, goes for $359 on Amazon and is almost always out-of-stock. (If Oprah says something is her “absolutely favorite thing in the world,” you know it’s got to be good.)

But when a friend recently told me she read the entire “Great Gatsby” on her iPhone for free via an application called “Stanza,” the Kindle allure started to fade. “Stanza” carries thousands of books and periodicals that can be downloaded on demand from the Internet on your computer. Book choices range from classic to contemporary works. Some are free, whereas others require a charge (The teen cult series, “Twilight,” goes for $10.99). But once a book is downloaded to an iPhone or iTouch, it can be read anywhere, regardless of Internet connectivity – airplanes and subways included.

The app also allows you to use virtual bookmarks to reserve your place (or you can skip around to different chapters) and even overrides the background color, font size and text color to fit your preferences.

Analysts debated how e-book readers such as the Kindle would effect book retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Borders moving forward, but I think cash-strapped consumers (especially now) might bypass the pricy gadget all together and wait until their phones can handle sophisticated e-book applications such as Stanza.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if retailers felt compelled to get in on the action by offering exclusive downloads for purchase on these e-book apps in the near future.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Although Circuit City’s stores are still trying to push merchandise out of its doors before it closes up shop for good, its site has been down for over a week now.

But why throw away a sophisticated e-commerce set up that could help get rid of inventory? Has the chain underestimated the power of the Web? This news makes no sense to me.

Text to Order: 1 $5 Ft. Long, Plz.

I recently blogged about how pizza chains, such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa Johns, are allowing customers to order food in innovative ways (via Facebook, TiVo and a text-to-order program, respectively). Now, Subway is jumping in on the action with its own text-to-order program currently being tested in Manhattan.

Judging by the long lines in various Subway locations during lunchtime in the Midtown area, I’m sure consumers will take advantage of the pilot so they can quickly grab lunch and get back to work. Although the program just launched a few weeks ago, blog MobileMarketingToday said participating Subway stores have seen a "major increase in customer visit frequency" and "larger average order sizes.”

Subway also trialed a mobile coupon program through a single franchise location in Illinois, according to MobileMarketingToday. Subway said that the mobile coupon promotion specifically resonated with high school students, and as result, reported an increase in sales for the location. Read the blog entry here.

Consumers are already embracing these new mobile initiatives from fast food chains, but retailers are still struggling to reach shoppers with texting programs. Some companies have experienced with text-marketing campaigns in the past, but many companies are finding that shoppers don’t want to be bothered with ads on their phones.

Retailers need to give consumers a reason to use texts (or mobile in general) to interact with them. If consumers already feel comfortable cashing in coupons and ordering take-out on a handheld mobile device, there’s certainly room for retailers to get in on the action -- they just have to strategize out how.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Language Lessons: Gen Y 101

I usually don’t write about brand products, but Dentyne has a thing or two to teach retailers about how to speak (and get through) to Generation Y.

The new ads from chewing gum company Denytne first caught my attention while I was riding the subway in New York City several moths ago. Its “Make Face Time” campaign aims to speak the language of Gen Y (and it does so very successfully). The ads urge consumers to unplug, power-off and step away from the keyboard. Some tag lines include: “Have mercy on your thumbs;” “Undo. Hit cancel. Be together;” and “Friend Request Accepted [a hug].” The commercial also hits home (you may recognize it).

I recently realized, however, that the company takes this concept a step further online, as well. Its site,, features a clock in the corner of the page that gives consumers only three-minutes to browse the site before it closes. The homepage says:

We’ve got nothing against the Internet, but when people are surfing the Web, they’re missing the best part of life -- being together. That’s why we created the first website devoted to helping people spend less time online and more time with each other. We've allocated just enough time to browse every link, but not a second more. So enjoy your three minutes, then get out there and make face time. Chop Chop. Time starts now.

However, some pages pause the clock, including product description pages that allow consumers to learn about Dentyne items without a time limitation.

Overall, the entire idea is genius: It blatantly tells me to log off, but I’m further entranced by what’s on the site. Smart marketing indeed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tesco Rides the Twitter Train

Although many U.S. retailers are reaching out and interacting with consumers on social messaging service Twitter, British companies have been slower to jump on board. But now, Tesco's Fresh & Easy concept is answering consumer's questions via the social platform and providing information on deals and store openings.

So far, Fresh & Easy is off to a good start. According to a report in London's Telegraph, "the Fresh & Easy Twitter feed has 915 followers — a fair number given that a chain the size of Starbucks only has 30,591 followers."

Read how Tesco is getting in on the conversation here.

At the Drive-Thru: Would you like a Kitchen Appliance with that?

One day during this past holiday shopping season, I heard a DJ on the radio talking about how they made the majority of their gift purchases through Nordstrom's Buy-Online, Pick-Up in-store program. The DJ went on about how much time it saved her and how much she loved the experience, while fellow on-air personalities chimed in with questions about the service.

Although various retailers have been providing this service for several years, many consumers are only starting to take advantage now, especially to avoid long lines and shipping costs. To extend this idea further and help bridge the gap between bricks-and-mortar locations and the e-commerce space, some retailers such as Sears are pulling out the stops.

Sears Holdings recently announced that it plans to open a warehouse-style concept store this summer in Joliet, Ill. called MyGofer. The concept will give shoppers the opportunity to buy online and pick up their purchases in the store or at a drive-through portal.

The idea is certainly a convenient option (and ideal for budget-shoppers who may be tempted to impulse buy once they pick-up their items in the store). However, many retailers reap big profit by those who add to their order once they get into the store: A drive-thru may make it easier for shoppers to pick up their items and leave, but that's not necessarily good news for Sears.

Can Sears upsell to those not willing to leave the driver's seat? Will they even try? Either way, it will certainly be interesting to see how the innovative concept plays out this summer.

Monday, January 19, 2009

E-Blast Annoyances

I'm starting to get frustrated by "personalized" e-mails from companies that don't have a clue about my personal preferences.

Take this recent example from United Airlines. My preferred airline carrier recently sent me an e-mail detailing specials on flights that leave out of Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. After flying with the airline for several years, you would think they would finally notice that I only fly out of the New York City area.

"Personalized" e-mails such as this give off the idea that they are doing customers a favor, when it fact, it's only cluttering their inboxes. It can also make them feel frustrated to see no flight specials leaving out of their airport -- why rub it in?

The entire e-mail was of no use to me, and I was left feeling like the company (from which I spend hundreds of dollars on plane tickets each year) has no idea who I am or what I actually want.

That said, when you try to reach your customers with touches of "personalization," be sure to segment them correctly so it doesn't do more harm than good.

Here's to You, Multi-Channel Retailers

In case you haven’t heard yet:

L.L. Bean has once again come out on top for serving up great customer service in all retail formats, according to the fourth annual NRF Foundation/American Express Customers’ Choice survey, conducted by BIGresearch.

In the four-year history of the survey, shoppers have increasingly identified Internet-only retailers among those who offered the best customer service, according to the report. And this year was no different with (No. 2), (No. 3) and (No. 4) filling out the top positions.

Jumping five spots this year, J.C. Penney secured the No. 7 spot. Other multichannel and specialty retailers in the Top 10 include Lands’ End (No. 5), Newegg (No. 6), QVC (No. 8), Coldwater Creek (No. 9) and Nordstrom (No. 10).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thank you, Williams-Sonoma

I often write about how retailers should use more video on their sites to bring products (or the entire shopping experience) to life. There are only so many pictures and words a Web page can convey. I'd like to send a cordial congrats to Williams-Sonoma for getting it right. is using video to sell various croissants, sticky buns and scones (who knew Williams-Sonoma sold baked goods?) And now I want to eat them all.

At the bottom of the croissant product page, various videos discuss how a bakery in France makes the items (the chef explains how it's done). The video also describes how they smell when they baking in the oven and offers tips on how to best serve them to guests.

Companies such as QVC and HSN have known for years that video can be incredibly powerful in driving sales, and now (thank goodness) other retailers are starting to embrace video technology through their sites in innovative and engaging ways.

Watch the video here.

Facebook Sacrifices Whopper Promo

"Facebook has disabled Whopper Sacrifice after your love for the Whopper Sandwich proved to be stronger than 233,906 friendships" -

That's right, Facebook has put a stop to Burger King's "Whopper Sacrifice" promotion that encouraged members to delete 10 of their friends for a free Whopper coupon. And surprisingly, Facebook's reason for pulling the plug is not because the app is offensive. (Read my original blog post "Trading Friendship for Whoppers" here).

Although the application attracted about 82,000 Facebook users in just one week (and resulted in 233,906 friends removed), the problem is that it violates privacy issues.

The app notified deleted friends, along with their friends via a public news feed, that they were "sacrificed for a Whopper." Usually, no notification is usually sent when a friend is deleted from their friend repertoire.

Even though the application was disabled, the word-of-mouth and media buzz surrounding the "Whopper Sacrifice" is a big win for Burger King. The hamburger chain is once again a hot topic (and a controversial one at that). Facebook members have even created a group to bring back the application, wanting more from Burger King.

And for those who were deleted by someone on Facebook for a free Whopper, Burger King lets you send them a Burger King-sponsored Angry Gram. Talk about expanding the breadth of (debatably) witty branding.

(Virtually) Up Close and Personal

Online personalization features are all the rage these days among Gen Y (are you catching on?), and some retailers are effectively embracing the trend to learn more about their customers and ultimately give them what they want.

Sucharita Mulpuru, senior analyst at Forrester Research, discussed this topic during the session, “The State of Retailing Online” at the NRF Big Show held earlier this week in New York City. Some retailers are sitting on rich consumer information, and only some are taking it to the next level, she said.

For example, let's take contemporary apparel company Wet Seal. The retailer's site recently gave consumers the opportunity to create and assemble their own virtual outfits. Soon after launching the feature, the site received over 100,000 outfits.

The company took this to the next level by leveraging the information from their customers to help merchants do their jobs even better. Wet Seal gave shoppers the chance to vote online for their favorite outfits, and surprisingly, the user-generated creations repeatedly came out on top. The retailer then took the outfits that received the most votes and the highest ratings from shoppers and populated its product-detail pages with those cross sells and upsells.

This is just one of the many examples of how retailers are starting to benefit from thinking in new, innovative ways on the Web.

Run! The Fear of Online Shopping Taxes

“You know you’re making too much money when the government decides to increase your tax burden.”

-- Sucharita Mulpuru, senior analyst at Forrester Research, during the National Retail Federation’s annual conference in New York City, on a recent tax law allowing New York to collect sales tax from online retailers with no physical presence in the state.

Online retailers aren’t happy campers (and I can’t imagine consumers are thrilled either). Some are attempting to fight back, but so far, Amazon and Overstock are already being left in the dust. Read more here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

From ‘The Office’ to The General Store

There's just something about Steve Carrell buying a Massachusetts general store that makes me happy. Read the story here.

"I will be manning the cash register, and stocking the shelves as time permits!" Carell wrote in an e-mail to The Boston Globe.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gen Y’s Role in the Economic Climate

The current state of the struggling economy has been a brutal awakening for Gen Y workers, but it is also creating new problems for managers, according to a report in the Economist. The article, “Reality Bites for Young Workers,” definitely deserves a few minutes of your time. Read it here.

It also mentions how some retailers are grasping on to these Gen Y staffers (and their knowledge of the Internet) to help save money:

Net Geners’ knowledge of Internet technology can also help companies save money. Consider the case of Best Buy, a big American consumer-electronics retailer. Keen to create a new employee portal, the firm contacted an external consultancy that quoted it a price of several million dollars. Shocked by this, a group of young Best Buy employees put together a small team of developers from their own networks who produced a new portal for about $250,000. Another Net Gener at the company cobbled together a mobile-phone version of Best Buy’s website for fun in seven days in his spare time.

Best Buy is also betting that its Net Geners can come up with new ways of boosting sales using the web and other means. “We’ll weather the storm and be stronger because of the Net Generation,” says Michele Azar, Best Buy’s head of Internet strategy. Estée Lauder, a cosmetics firm, is also encouraging Net Geners to help it innovate. It has launched an initiative called iForce, which brings together young staff to dream up ways of marketing products using emerging technologies.

Click, click, click.

Too Far Beyond

This isn't a Gen Y-specific find, per say, but it's something I thought was warranted to bring to the table.

I took this picture recently as I went down the escalator at a three-level Bed, Beth & Beyond location in Manhattan. I initially thought the floor-to-ceiling set-up of travel and pocket-size accessories sent a powerful message to consumers (there's so much to choose from!), but then reality set in: "How in the world am I going to find what I want?"

Looking for a travel-size tube of toothpaste turned into a treasure hunt -- and asking a salesperson for help with something so small was frustrating (it's all too high to reach). Realistically, the design of this wall was just impractical. Easy on-the-go purchases quickly became cumbersome.

Even if the goal is to make a statement in design, it's so important for retailers to make life easier for busy shoppers -- not add more hassle to it.

Retail ‘Nose’ Best

One of the most interesting, interactive booths I saw at the NRF Big Show held in New York City this week was run by ScentAir, a company that uses scented air technology to enhance the retail experience.

With scents ranging from hot apple pie, baby powder and ocean, to lavender, cedar wood and green tea, more retailers are influencing their customer's in-store experience by engaging memory and emotion through the sense of smell.

Various retailers, including Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Reebok and Ashley Furniture, all use scents to impact the shopping experience. Abercrombie & Fitch also pumps its own signature fragrance into the air of its bricks-and-mortar locations.

Connecting your business to a scent is an effective marketing technique that can not only influence shopping behaviors but also impact the power of brand association. While I tested the different scents via a touchscreen on the side of ScentAir's innovative bus-shaped booth, I immediately recognized that the “Coconut Beach” fragrance was used in The Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas.

Since the sense of smell is the strongest of all human senses, retailers should hardly overlook scented air technology.

So, what does your brand smell like? And please don't tell me “nothing.”

Trading Friendship for Whoppers

Would you get rid of 10 friends in exchange for a Burger King Whopper?

Many young consumers are jumping on this incentive via a Facebook promotion that allows members to eliminate 10 friends for the prize of a free Whopper. Now, keep in mind, Whoppers usually go for less than $2.00 anyway, which values the worth of an online friend at less than 20 cents a person.

The promotion is creating a quite the stir, and that's exactly what Burger King wants. Last weekend, for example, a few friends and I sat around to watch the Eagles/Giants game (I left as a happy Eagles fan), when someone brought up the Burger King promotion during a commercial break. Some thought the concept was hilarious, while others were insulted that they could potentially be de-friended in exchange for a mere hamburger.

Still, it's a huge win for Burger King as the company once again creates an engaging conversation-starter among the Gen Y crowd (see the "Simpsonize Me" reference in the previous post). It's putting the burger chain back on our radar with a hot, quirky and relevant topic for the Facebook generation to discuss.

I don't think 10 of my Facebook friends will get the boot in exchange for a meal, but perhaps I should reconsider -- I mean, hey, we are in a recession.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Playing Dress Up

Sephora generated some buzz over the holiday season with a new initiative that especially resonated with young female customers. The beauty retailer allowed online shoppers to test products with its virtual “Mistletoe Makeover” site during the holidays.

Powered by, a virtual-makeover company, Sephora ran a “Mistletoe Makeover” e-card Web site in conjunction with a promotion on the beauty retailer's Facebook page. Shoppers could upload a photo at and apply virtual make-up to the image. Once created, users could then send a Mistletoe e-card to their friends and family, as well as purchase the makeup used.

This concept was made popular by similar sites such as Simpsonize Me (a promotion with Burger King) and even (a silly site that places your photo in various Yearbooks from past decades). Gen Y loves to personalize photos of themselves and/or friends.

I'm hardly surprised that Sephora cashed in on the trend -- they tend to keep on top of what's popular among young consumers. I'm only surprised more retailers haven't followed its lead just yet.

Advertising Gone Wrong

Are some Facebook advertisers alienating target consumers? Click here for an interesting – and amusing -- read about marketing to the Gen Y crowd.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pizza Ploys

Companies are testing new ways to reach tech-savvy consumers, and all of a sudden it seems like it’s the pizza chains that are taking a giant leap forward.

Pizza Hut is targeting Facebook members with an application that allows members to order a pizza directly from its Facebook page (the page has well over 500,000 fans). Meanwhile, Papa John's has embraced a text-by-order campaign on its site and Domino’s takes orders through TiVo.

Although some might argue that ordering a pizza in such a fashion may complicate placing a simple order (why not just pick up the phone?), this approach is indeed a smart one: Companies are catching the attention of consumers in places where they already spend time, whether it's on social-networking sites or in front of the TV.

The chains’ accessibility through these new channels is a fine blend of convenience and innovation, but I wonder if I'll actually remember these options the next time I want pizza from a chain. If a campaign catches me at the right time, though, maybe I will ... at least for curiosity's sake.

Digital Retail Tips for the New Year

The National Retail Federation’s online arm recently posted an interesting blog by executive director Scott Silverman, suggesting digital retail ideas for consideration in 2009. With lots of issues at the table in light of the struggling economy, retailers need to step up their game with optimization, innovation and investing more in the e-commerce sector, Silverman notes.

Read his insights here.

O e-Christmas Tree

The Internet clearly holds no boundaries. Many consumers logged online this past holiday season to buy real Christmas trees, opting to have them delivered to their home instead of fighting through crowded tree farms and struggling to transport them.

Although the National Christmas Tree Association told me yesterday afternoon they couldn't comment on whether or not online Christmas tree orders grew in popularity this year, the number of Christmas tree farms and retailers offering the option was certainly on the rise. Lands' End was among the retailers that sold Fraser firs online for the first time this year.

Read more about the trend here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

SNL Charm School: Tips for Saving Up

This clip from Saturday Night Live features the hilarious Steve Martin who learns the value of money management. Although the clip debuted back in 2006, it has been making its way around the Web these days, hitting closer to home as consumers fasten up their wallets after the holiday season. Of course, it's not good news for the retail industry (or the overall state of the economy), but at least you can have a little bit of a laugh.

“Hot” Items for Sale

Did you buy your mother a once-stolen necklace for Christmas? Or perhaps a purse that was previously lost and later recovered by police officials?

It may sound ridiculous, but millions of consumers bargain-shopped in new ways this past holiday season to save big money. Although many retailers are reporting weak sales results, some auction sites such as reaped big profit. maintains the only nationwide registry available to the general public for recovering lost or stolen goods. is an online auction site that works with over 1,300 law-enforcement agencies across the country. The site allows consumers to purchase merchandise that was previously stolen and that the agency was unable to return to the rightful owner. It’s like an eBay for stolen goods. had over 30 million page views in Dec. 2008 and over a million visitors, which was a 35% increase over Dec. 2007. Along with record traffic, the company saw a 25% revenue increase over last year’s holiday season.

It’s only natural that a business model backed by thrives amid the struggling economic environment, selling high-quality goods at a fraction of the price. According to global Internet information provider comScore, 21% of consumers shopped at online auction sites and 46% of shoppers sought out less-expensive gifts this holiday season (complimented by another 37% who are spending more time researching deals online).

Everyone wins — well, except for the person who lost their goods in the first place.

New Years Resolution: Speak Clearly

Here’s another one from The Consumerist, the snarky consumer affairs blog.

Repeat after me: I will not confuse my customers this year, I will not confuse my customers this year